Say San Lorenzo in London, indeed even in the midst of a Usain Bolt race, and you'll be greeted with instant nods of recognition. This famed restaurant, which is a must-do for ladies who lunch and was a favourite haunt of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, was founded in 1963 by Mara and Lorenzo Berni. "We filled a void in the food market," shared the oh-so-warm and gentile Berni with SO. "The French were super-expensive and had much pomp and pageantry. Chinese food was cheap, Indian for the most part too... we dropped ourselves right in the middle and were fortunate enough to find the right location." No idle boast! For if location is everything then you truly cannot get better than Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge.
We're fortunate enough to catch Lorenzo in somewhat of a relaxed mode; lunch has just ended and there's a lull ahead of dinner preparations. Chef Collin Brown makes the introductions (he's a regular) and very soon we are shown the favourite spot of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. "She always sat here," we're told by Lorenzo "and was always charming". What's interesting about San Lorenzo and perhaps, we surmise, what makes it unique is its sense of cosy and unpretentiousness. As you step into the elegant lounge areas complete with Andy Warhol art, and images of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, the grandeur of the iconic establishment kicks in.
Midway through our guided tour by Lorenzo, he pauses and breaks into a smile.
"We have a Jamaican connection here!" he says proudly, showing off the walls of art by British painter Jonathan Routh who spent long periods in Jamaica exhibiting at Harmony Hall and who actually passed away in Jamaica in 2008.
The restaurant itself is on several levels with seating for parties of 20, 40 and/or 60, or the entire restaurant for 150, which is elegantly divided to maintain exclusivity and intimacy. Interpret this to mean that you can dine 'solo' even when the restaurant is full.
The food is traditional Italian, says Lorenzo, with the favourite being penne alla vialli — tomato, mozzarella and basil. The home-made ice cream, we soon discover, is also excellent as is the latte.
All is not perfect, we soon glean in the Lorenzo paradise. Lorenzo's lifelong partner Mara passed three months ago. "We built this together," he shared, "so it's very hard for me now." Conversation ends for a few... And we allow Lorenzo to continue at his pace. Other family members are part of his support system, for in addition to the Knightsbridge location there is too, San Lorenzo in Wimbledon.
22 Beauchamp Place • Knightsbridge • London SW3 1NH
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7584 1074 or 7584 1142
San Lorenzo Fuoriporta
Worple Road Mews • Wimbledon • London SW 19 7PA